Despite Warning, Babies Still Get Cough Medicine

Survey Shows Many Parents Don’t Heed Warning on Risks of Cough and Cold Medicines

From the WebMD Archives

Feb. 17, 2011 -- Despite health warnings and a formal recommendation by the FDA against doing so, many parents are still giving over-the-counter (OTC) cough and cold medicine to kids under age 2.

Research has shown that OTC cough and cold medicines have led to poisoning or death in kids under age 2. As a result, the FDA said in 2008 that OTC cough and cold products should not be given to children in this age group.

Even so, six out of 10 parents have done so in the last year, according to the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital “National Poll on Children’s Health.”

Matthew Davis, MD, associate professor in the Child Health Evaluation and Research Unit at the University of Michigan Medical School, and colleagues wanted to see how well parents and doctors were heeding recommendations to avoid the use of OTC cough/cold medicines in children under age 2. In January 2011, they polled randomly selected parents in the U.S. with children 6 months to 2 years old.

Survey Results on Cough and Cold Medicine

Parents were asked: "When was the last time you gave your ... child an over-the-counter medicine for cold, cough and/or flu symptoms?"

  • 61% percent of parents gave OTC cough/cold medicine to a child under age 2 within the last 12 months.
  • Use of OTC cough/cold medicine in children under age 2 varied with ethnicity. African-American and Hispanic parents more often reported the use of such medicines in children than white parents did.
  • OTC cough/cold medicines were more likely to be given to young children in families with lower incomes (less than $30,000 a year).

More than half of the parents who gave their baby or toddler a cough/cold medicine in the last year reported that their child's doctors said it was safe to do so.

About 50% of parents said their child's doctor told them the OTC cough/cold medicine would help relieve their child's symptoms.

"Unfortunately, this latest poll indicates that the FDA warnings have gone unheeded by the majority of parents, and surprisingly, many physicians," Davis says in a news release.


Why Parents Give Cough/Cold Medicines to Kids

Parents were also asked to rank whether the following three items were "very important," "somewhat important," or "not important" when deciding to use such medicines:

  • I wanted my child to be able to sleep better.
  • I wanted my child to be more comfortable during the daytime.
  • My child’s health care provider recommended the medicine.

Slightly more than half of the parents (56%) said their doctor's recommendation was a "very important" reason why they gave their child such medicines.

Two-thirds of the parents polled said "very important" reasons for using medicines included helping their sick child sleep better or to be more comfortable during the day.

Informing Parents About Cough/Cold Medicine

Researchers admit there are challenges to informing parents about the use of OTC cough/cold medicines in children, especially new parents who may not have heard the warnings when issued several years ago. Doctors play a critical important role in educating parents about the safety and usage of cough/cold medicines, and it is important that messages given are clear and consistent, Davis says.

“Physicians are a valuable source of information for parents about this issue, but it appears that physicians are not heeding FDA warnings about OTC cough and cold medicines either. Kids will be safer when parents and doctors are all on the same page in limiting these medicines to older children.”

WebMD Health News Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD on February 17, 2011



News release, University of Michigan Health System.

C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital: “National Poll on Children’s Health,” Feb. 14, 2011; vol 12.

FDA: "FDA Recommends that Over-the-Counter Cough and Cold Products not be used for Infants and Children under 2 Years of Age."

© 2011 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.


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